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The arrival of The Irish Press in 1931 changed everything about the GAA

As a significant birthday draws close, it is worth noting the importance of the paper within the sport

The GAA was transformed with the introduction of The Irish Press in 1931

Sean McGoldrickSunday World

It is 9,997 days since the closure of the Irish Press group of newspapers in May 1995. Last night there was a reunion for surviving staff at which tales of life in Burgh Quay were retold.

At a time when there is an ongoing debate on social media about the merit of the GAA’s split season it is interesting to reflect on the role the paper played in popularising the association.

Even though the Association was 47 years in existence when the Irish Press was launched by Eamon de Valera in 1931 coverage of GAA affairs in the other national papers was scant at the time.

The arrival of the Irish Press changed everything.

As author Ray Burke recalled in Press Delete the Decline and Fall of the Irish Press de Valera deliberately timed the launch of the new paper for the eve of the 1931 hurling final between Cork and Kilkenny.

One of the 12 pages in the first issue and a lengthy leader page article was devoted to the match.

And, by a stroke of good fortune for both the GAA and the fledging publication the 1931 decider was a historic one – for the first and only time in the history of the game it required two replays before Cork emerged victories on a score line of 5-8 to 3-4.

There was no rush with replays in those days. The first replay took place on October 11, five weeks after the drawn game and the second replay didn’t take place until November 1. By then all the national newspapers had copped on that devoting space to GAA affairs boosted sales.

GAA historian Marcus de Burca said that the launch of the Irish Press was a ‘milestone in Irish sports journalism’ and a ‘turning-point in the relations between the GAA and what a later generation calls the media.’

He said prior to the arrival of the Irish Press ‘editors and proprietors of many Irish papers were so prejudicated against the GAA that there was a tendency to report its activities unfavourably only.’ He said the ‘GAA benefitted enormously from its treatment by the new paper.’

At Easter 1934, the Irish Press, then just two-and-a-half years old, marked the GAA’s golden jubilee by publishing a special 96-page colour supplement.

Sadly, by the time the GAA celebrated the 125th anniversary of its foundation in 2009 the Irish Press had been closed for 14 years.

Ultimately it proved more robust than the paper which helped popularise it.

For all the criticism levelled at it the GAA remains the most robust nationally based organisation in the country.

It has long surpassed the two other lynch-pins of the Republic so beloved by de Valera the Fianna Fail party and the Catholic Church.

The chaos, for example, which bedevils both professional and amateur boxing and the existential threat to rugby because of the concussion issue underlines how well the GAA actually organise their affairs.

In truth it doesn’t really matter whether the All-Ireland finals take place in July, August, September or a week before Christmas – the fans will still flock to Croke Park.

The criticism of the split season is a product of the human psyche. As a race we hate change – and the more radical the change the more acute our anxiety becomes.

Judging by recent comments from County Board officials – who ultimately will make the call on the merits of the split season – they are not for turning. In fact the majority believe it has made a positive difference.

Here were the views of Galway Board chairperson Paul Bellew. In an interview with the he said.

“Planning and organisation between the football and hurling committees is at an all-time high even with the complications from (reaching) the All-Ireland final.

“There has been no case before the CCC in terms of adjudicating between a clash of football and hurling fixtures, even at juvenile level. Player feedback, club feedback, supporter feedback is extremely strong.

“Games are happening when they should be. In good weather, on good pitches. Attendances continue to increase across both codes. Gate receipts will surpass the million mark this year. That is a significant uptake on the last entire season, which was 2019.

“On top of that, we’ve streamed four games every weekend to a massive audience. The interest has been really strong with four-figure viewership on our matches in football and hurling. Such was the demand for U20 hurling that we streamed that midweek on a Wednesday night.”

So like the GAA itself, one suspects the split season is here to stay regardless of whether the fourth estate love it or loath it.

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